Chicagoans are a crafty bunch. For much of the year, the weather doesn't cooperate, so the citizens of Chicago find creative ways to bring the fun indoors, whether it's with soup parties, cosmic bowling, or hearty Bohemian food. But now that warmer weather has arrived, take advantage of the beautiful shoreline of Lake Michigan, lush green parks, and scenic rooftop bars. In the words of famous Chicago native Kanye West: “The good life / It feels like summertime Chi." There truly is no summer like a Chicago summer.
That's why Crocs and Bustle have partnered to create a summer guide for enjoying the best outdoor food, fun, and performances that Chicago has to offer. From festivals in the park to the stunning skyline against the shore, there's no excuse to stay indoors when you should be outside exploring the city by foot while you can. Check out the following list of all the best spots to enjoy the rays while soaking up Chicago's laid-back culture.
Best Outdoor Dining
NoMi Garden is an unassuming hotel bar situated in the Gold Coast. Given its serene environment and elegant patio, you'll have no idea that you're situated above one of the busiest commercial districts in the country. In refreshing Chicago fashion, there's nothing trendy about it. It's somewhere you could conduct a business meeting or celebrate a major milestone. But the ambiance is utter serenity. Just a few short steps off North Michigan Ave and a quick elevator ride up in the tony Park Hyatt, suddenly you're seven floors away from shopping-bag laden tourists. The patio is swanky yet elegant, and the bites (especially the sashimi) are worth the splurge.
On the other end of the spectrum is Big Star: tacos, whiskey, and honky-tonk music brought to you by Chicago super-chef Paul Kahan of Blackbird fame. The patio is little more than a street-level corral, a crowded assemblage of picnic tables and plates full of food, but somehow this seems like the perfect way to enjoy a taco and frothy cup of horchata.
Best Outdoor Performance Venues
New Music Mondays at Pritzker Pavilion
New Music Mondays are free concerts in the centrally located Pritzker Pavilion and take place at 6:30 p.m each week. Folk, indie, pop, and alternative acts are paired with up-and-coming Chicago artists. (Last year, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo's group The Both played.) This series is a lower-key alternative to Ravinia, a more costly outdoor concert series.
Best Place To Have Fun By Foot
Chicago Lakefront Trail
Crocs style pictured above: Leigh Graphic Wedge in multi/mushroom, $59.99
The Chicago Lakefront Trail is a prime spot for people-watching. Pick a jumping-off point (the Japanese Gardens at the Museum of Science & Industry is a local favorite) and walk until you're in need of an iced beverage or a break. Along the way, scope out the cyclists, rollerbladers, runners, picnickers, beachcombers, and sand-joggers against Lake Michigan's unbeatable backdrop.
Best Outdoor Nightlife
Roof On The Wit
Roof On The Wit is clubby (so many blue lights!) but a perpetual favorite of Chicagoans. With four different seating areas twenty-seven floors above the city and cocktails on tap, this Loop district classic is a hit with the trendier crowds.
Best Outdoor Festival
Do Division in West Town is a street festival that includes concerts, shopping, and family-friendly activities. It succeeds at being both accessible and philanthropic: it's only $5 to enter, and 90 percent of the admission fees are donated to local nonprofits.
Best Place To Cool Off
Oak Street Beach
Native Chicagoans tend to take the shorelines for granted, but out-of-towners continue to marvel that there are beaches... in the city! Oak Street Beach, right off of Lake Shore Drive, offers the most variety. Whether your pleasures are simple (sunning, swimming, and beach volleyball) or more adventurous (Wave Runners and jet skis), you can find your bliss a short walk away from equally-amenable Lincoln Park.
North Avenue Beach
Seven days a week, you can do beach yoga at North Avenue Beach. After you've said your namaste, wade out in the water and look southwest. You'll both enjoy the waves lapping at your ankles and a view of the Loop and the iconic Navy Pier.
This post is sponsored by Crocs.